Settlement Accomplished: The Accords Initialed and Signed, January 1973


42. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 28, HAK Trip Files, HAK Paris Trip Tohak 67–146, January 7–14, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 108 Avenue du Général Leclerc, Gif-sur-Yvette. All brackets are in the original. The pages of the original are misnumbered, skipping page 24, but no text is missing.

After this session, the first since the Christmas bombing, Kissinger reported to Nixon: “We held a four-and-a-half hour session with the North Vietnamese today which was totally inconclusive. The atmosphere at the outset was frosty but thawed as we went along.” When the meeting broke for lunch, Tho initiated a private talk with Kissinger in which Tho noted that he was “having domestic difficulties with regard to his negotiating posture.” That is, the Politburo had restricted his negotiating freedom because he had earlier, especially in the November round, showed signs of excessive flexibility in the negotiations. ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Document 255) “If this were true,” Kissinger later wrote, “it was beyond my imagination what his hard-line [Politburo] colleagues might be like.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1463)

Kissinger concluded his report to the President as follows:

“It is impossible to draw any meaningful conclusion from this meeting. Realistically, it would be impossible for them to cave on the issues on the first day at the conference table after intensive B–52 bombing. Thus, they could be following the essential procedure of the technical talks [run by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs William H. Sullivan and North Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach, January 2–6] at which they didn’t give much ground the first day. On the other hand, it is equally possible that they are stonewalling us again as they did in December. Under this hypothesis, the progress this past week on technical talks would only be their way of removing the propaganda vulnerability of their position concerning international control machinery.”

Kissinger expected to have a clearer indication of North Vietnamese intentions after the next day’s meeting. ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Document 255)


43. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 866, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David Memcons, January 8–13, 1973 [January 23, 1973]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at La Fontaine au Blanc, St. Nom la Bretèche. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

Kissinger began his report for Nixon on the day’s proceedings by stating: “We celebrated the President’s birthday by making a major breakthrough in the negotiations.” Kissinger then explained that he and Le Duc Tho had agreed to phrasing in the text of the agreement about the Demilitarized Zone that reflected the U.S. position, and had also made substantial progress toward finding an acceptable way to sign the agreement. Looking ahead, Kissinger added, “we now have to figure out a way to get Saigon aboard.”

Kissinger believed that the agreement would be completed over the next few days, possibly by Friday, January 12. He cautioned, however, that the “Vietnamese have broken our heart several times before, and we just cannot assume success until everything is pinned down.”

Despite the day’s successes, Kissinger let the President know that that progress remained fragile and that a critical element in that progress was the secrecy of the negotiations. On this he wrote:

“I cannot overemphasize the absolute necessity that this information be confined to the President alone. There must not be the slightest hint of the present status to the bureaucracy, Cabinet members, the Congress, or anyone else. If a wave of euphoria begins in Washington, the North Vietnamese are apt to revert to their natural beastliness, and the South Vietnamese will do their best to sabotage our progress. Furthermore, we cannot afford to raise expectations before everything is firmly in concrete. A great deal of work remains on the protocols. We must keep in mind how often Hanoi has pulled back from agreements before. And we in any event still face a massive problem in Saigon. Therefore it is certainly premature to celebrate even privately.

“What has brought us to this point is the President’s firmness and the North Vietnamese belief that he will not be affected by either Congressional or public pressures. Le Duc Tho has repeatedly made these points to me. So it is essential that we keep our fierce posture during the coming days. The slightest hint of eagerness could prove suicidal.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Document 256)


44. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 866, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David Memcons, January 8–13, 1973 [January 23, 1973]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 108 Avenue du Général Leclerc in Gif-sur-Yvette. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

In his message to President Nixon summarizing the day’s meeting, Kissinger wrote: “Today’s four-hour session continued the momentum of yesterday. I think we can now say with some assurance that the agreement, understandings and protocols should all be completed by Saturday [January 13] or Sunday [January 14], except perhaps for some technical conforming of the protocol texts.” However, he cautioned: “It is always possible, of course, that Hanoi will reverse course, but the atmosphere and approach is totally different from December. Whatever the press and other observers may say about our military actions, they certainly seem to have contributed to this result.”

Expressing his ongoing concern about the possibility of Saigon or Hanoi or both somehow short-circuiting the agreement, Kissinger added: “The need for the strictest security on the status of the talks, not to mention possible scenarios, remains as imperative as ever. Finally, of course, the problem in Saigon remains formidable. This fact plus the constant caveat about Hanoi’s course of action mean that even private celebrations will be premature for many days to come.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Document 258)


45. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 866, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David Memcons, January 8–13, 1973 [January 23, 1973]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at La Fontaine au Blanc, St. Nom la Bretèche. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed; on Tab D, see Appendix 3.

In Kissinger’s report to Nixon on the day’s meeting, he noted: “We finished the complete text of the agreement, including the provisions for signature.” With the final text in hand, Kissinger focused on obtaining the agreement of South Vietnamese President Thieu: “Our major problem now, of course, is Saigon. I believe the only way to bring Thieu around will be to tell him flatly that you will proceed, with or without him. If he balks and we then initial, there will still be 3 to 4 days between initialing and signing for the pressures to build up. I have already told Le Duc Tho that we would have to discuss the situation in this eventuality. In any event, if we once again delay the initialing or reopen the negotiations, we would not only jeopardize but certainly lose everything that has been achieved.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Document 263)

Nixon replied quickly, in full agreement with Kissinger: “I also totally agree that we must go ahead with the agreement with Hanoi regardless of whether Thieu goes along or not. If we cannot deliver Thieu, we then obviously will have the problem of Hanoi’s reaction. In that event, there would be no Presidential announcement made on Thursday, January 18. Instead, we would have Haig delay his return so that there would be no pressure for an announcement until after January 20. Then, on January 22, I would make an announcement that we had reached an agreement in principle with the North Vietnamese and call on Thieu to adhere to it. I have already told Haig that he is to tell Thieu that we are not going to negotiate with him but rather that we will proceed and we are presenting this, in effect, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.” (Ibid., Document 264)


46. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 866, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David Memcons, January 8–13, 1973 [January 23, 1973]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 108 Avenue du Général Leclerc in Gif-sur-Yvette. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.


47. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 866, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David Memcons, January 8–13, 1973 [January 23, 1973]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at La Fontaine au Blanc, St. Nom la Bretèche. All brackets, except where noted, are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed; on Tabs A, B, C, see Appendix 3.

After the meeting, Kissinger informed the President: “We confirmed the final texts of the agreement and all associated understandings, and settled all the remaining issues of principle in the protocols.” Repeating what he had said many times before to Nixon, Kissinger made clear: “The problem now of course is in Saigon.” To that end, he and others were making every effort to persuade Thieu to accept the settlement as negotiated. For example, he continued:

“I had a very useful session with Thieu’s envoys, former Prime Minister Do and former Ambassador to the U.S. Diem, last evening. They had also gotten the right messages from Capitol Hill. Diem is returning to Saigon and their report should be of help. We have also provided Bunker with argumentation about the agreement, which I used here as well with the South Vietnamese, in order to start paving the way for Haig’s mission.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Document 276)

The Capitol Hill reference is to Nixon’s directing Kissinger to get prominent conservatives and supporters of South Vietnam in the Senate—Republican Barry Goldwater from Arizona and Democrat John Stennis from Mississippi—to say publicly that the settlement was good for South Vietnam and that President Thieu should accept it. See ibid., Documents 294 297. “Haig’s mission” refers to Haig’s trip to Saigon where he was to see President Thieu on January 20. According to Haldeman, President Nixon explained how Haig should carry out this task:

“His [the President’s] strategy there is to keep the whole approach with Thieu on our terms, and we don’t want to appear to be begging, especially on the record. The P made the point that Haig must take a very hard line on Thieu, that he’s here only as a messenger, not to negotiate, that the P has been totally in charge of all this, and he will go ahead regardless of what Thieu does.” (The Haldeman Diaries, Print Edition, p. 569)

Haig met with Thieu in Saigon on January 18 and 20. For his reports on the meetings, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Documents 292, 310, and 311.


48. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 866, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David Memcons, January 8–13, 1973 [January 23, 1973]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the International Conference Center, Hotel Majestic, Avenue Kléber. All brackets, except where noted, are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed; on Tab H, see Appendix 3.

Between January 13 and January 23, that is between the final two January Kissinger- Le Duc Tho meetings before the agreement was signed, Thieu decided to accept the agreement. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973 Documents 320, 322, and 329.

After Kissinger had failed to get Thieu’s agreement in October, Nixon made Haig his chief emissary to Thieu. In trips to Saigon in November, December, and January, Haig delivered increasingly tough messages from Nixon, essentially ultimatums, that signaled irrevocably the United States’ intention to sign the agreement even if South Vietnam did not. Furthermore, if South Vietnam did not sign, it could not depend on future U.S. assistance. In response to this pressure, Thieu agreed. On December 19, 1972, however, he perceptively commented to Haig, when the latter delivered the penultimate ultimatum: “Given the realities of the situation, what I am being asked to sign is not a treaty for peace but a treaty for continued U.S. support.” Haig replied: “I agree with your analysis.” (Haig, Inner Circles, p. 331)

With Thieu’s assent, Kissinger and Le Duc Tho could initial the agreement, paving the way for its formal signing by the U.S. Secretary of State and the Foreign Ministers of the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam, the Republic of (South) Vietnam, and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of Vietnam. The formal signing of both the four-party and two-party agreements took place on January 27 in Paris. The texts of the two agreements were identical except for the preamble and the signing paragraphs.

Later reflections by the two U.S. principals, President Nixon as policy architect and chief strategist and Kissinger as chief operative and tactician, show how they viewed what had happened and what had been achieved. Nixon wrote: “I had always expected that I would feel an immense sense of relief and satisfaction when the war was finally ended. But I also felt a surprising sense of sadness, apprehension, and impatience. Sadness, because Lyndon Johnson had not lived a few extra days to share the moment with me and receive the tribute I would have paid him. [Johnson died on January 22.] Apprehension, because I had no illusions about the fragile nature of the agreement or about the Communists’ true motives in signing it. And impatience, because I was acutely aware of all the things we had postponed or put off because of the war.” (Nixon, RN, p. 757) Kissinger wrote: “As we approached a conclusion there was no longer in our group that elation which accompanied the breakthrough in October. The December negotiations had brought home to us the abiding mutual hatred of the two Vietnams.” Furthermore: “We had learned how thin was the veneer of affability of Hanoi’s leadership, whose single-minded quest for hegemony, we were certain, would continue after a settlement.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1465) He added: “Le Duc Tho managed even on this solemn occasion to make himself obnoxious by insisting on ironclad assurances of American economic aid to North Vietnam.” (Ibid., p. 1472)